The massive red-brick mansion at the corner of Portland and St. Paul’s storied Summit Avenue has been home to titans of industry — and people down on their luck.
Now the grand home, on the market for $2.1 million, is seeking a new owner to write the next chapter of its long rich history.
It began in 1901 when fur wholesaler and banker James Skinner hired renowned architect Clarence Johnston to design a home for himself and his wife, Annie, in the posh neighborhood. No expense was spared. The Skinners’ Georgian/Neo-Classical house was filled with all the luxurious features of its era, including leaded- and stained-glass windows, crystal chandeliers and hand-carved mahogany woodwork by the Austrian artisan who crafted the wood at the nearby James J. Hill mansion.
The Skinners’ lavish home also had an attached brick carriage house, one of the largest, most expensive ancillary buildings Johnson ever designed. All together, it’s 14,000 square feet of living space, with 17 bathrooms and 19 fireplaces.
After Annie Skinner died in 1945, the house was sold to Edwin Matthias, legal counsel for the Great Northern Railroad. In 1957, it changed hands again, this time to real estate developer John B. Hilton.
But by the late 1970s, huge Victorian-era homes had fallen out of favor — and were relatively affordable. Father Martin Fleming, a retired Catholic priest and Army colonel who led mass in the jungle during the Vietnam War, bought the solid-brick mansion with ornate massive columns. At first he lived there with some of his siblings, nieces and nephews. But Fleming had a vision to create a Christian community for people in transition — a sober, safe place for people recovering from addiction and others who needed a home after a rough time.
Fleming called the house Bethany Manor. The attic, which he finished, was “the Upper Room.” The lower level was “the Tomb.” Over the decades, dozens of people rented rooms in the elegant mansion, which has 10 bedrooms, each with its own fireplace and bathroom. Fleming lived in the carriage house until his death last year at age 91.
“Everybody loved him,” said Sarah Kinney, a real estate agent who lives around the corner. “He had a wonderful sense of humor. I’d meet him out walking, and he’d say, ‘Well, Sarah, how is my favorite Protestant?’ ”
Fleming took good care of his house, via a live-in caretaker.
And despite the many residents over the years, his house remains gracious and beautiful, its abundant woodwork still unscratched and lustrous.
“It’s solid mahogany, all hand-carved and in wonderful shape — it’s breathtaking,” said Kinney. “The grand staircase is also quite spectacular. Father Fleming was very proud of the house.”
Like most old houses, the mansion has its quirks. The kitchen, last remodeled in the 1990s, is “utilitarian,” said Kinney, and still has its original oak butler’s pantry with glass-front cupboards. “Everybody is charmed by it.” There are two additional kitchens in the main house, one on the third floor and another in the lower level, plus a kitchen in the carriage house.
And there’s no garage, even though the carriage house has two stalls. They became unusable for vehicles after Fleming extended his balcony two feet, rendering it impossible to get a full-sized car in and out. “He said, ‘That was the only mistake I ever made.’ He used it for storage,” Kinney said.
With so many rooms and so much Old World charm, the house lends itself to a variety of uses. “It would make a great B&B,” said Kinney.
Sarah Kinney, 651-231-2211, Coldwell Banker Burnet, has the listing.